The Director-General of Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation, Dr. Sally Mbanefo has urged parents and guardians to ensure that they speak Nigerian languages at every home, saying it is a strong tool for the promotion of culture.
She observed that most languages, such as Igbo, are indeed, in danger of going extinct unless something drastic is done to preserve it.
Mbanefo, who spoke at this year’s national New Yam Festival (Iri Ji Ndi Igbo) at Igbo-Uku, Anambra State, urged traditional rulers in the state to intensify efforts at creating enabling environment for domestic tourism to thrive in their communities.
She identified tourism as a principal export for 83 per cent of developing countries and the most significant source of foreign exchange after petroleum. She pledged the Federal Government’s commitment to support and strengthen the festival in order to serve as a veritable channel to promote and market Nigeria’s rich culture.
“The domestic tourism market has a very high revenue and job creation potentials. Tourism industry contribution to the nation’s GDP is valued at approximately 1.3trillion naira with a 2.6 per cent contribution to total employment of 1,636,500 jobs. My plans to further take tourism to greater heights are increase domestic tourism volume by at least 30 per cent and entrench a culture of tourism among Nigerians, continued collaborative and sustainable partnership with the private sector operators to harness tourism resources and make Nigeria destination hub of Africa, and growing the tourism value chain to enhance revenue generation through innovative products/projects like the Green City.”
She described the Iriji Festival as a time of thanksgiving and praying for good yields, saying: “I passionately appeal to the Igbos to come together as one and give Igbo-Uku new yam festival a global out-look as other festivals such as Sango. It is an event that should be seen and celebrated by every Igbo son and daughter. It is an epitome of the beauty of Igbo culture. The Igbo nation is a people that are blessed with everything that make a great nation. The human and material resources that are found in Igbo land are enough to make Nigeria Africa’s destination hub.”
Mbanefo was honoured by His Royal Highness Igwe Martins Nwafor Ezeh Idu II of Igbo-Uku with the title of Ona mma Ndi Igbo, in appreciation of her contributions to the growth of culture and tourism in the country.
Igwe Ezeh, who lauded the strides of the NTDC boss at promoting domestic tourism and cultural festivals in the country, said: “Dr. Sally Mbanefo is a blessing to Nigeria, and in particular the Nigerian tourism industry. If men and women of vision and passion for nation building like our daughter, Dr. (Mrs.) Sally Mbanefo are at the helms of affairs of every sector in Nigeria, the nation will not only express her appellation as the Giant of Africa, but also as the Giant of the whole world. This is because we have the resources, what we only need are men of vision and patriotism to manage the resources for the benefit of all.”
Conferring the chieftaincy title on Dr. Mbanefo, the traditional ruler said: “Mbanefo did not buy this chieftaincy title with money, rather we consider it apt for her, having considered her immense contributions to Nigeria and support for the promotion and development of Igbo culture and tradition. We pray that God almighty will continue to strengthen her and bless her with the wisdom to record a successful tenure in office, thereby propelling the movement of this nation and the Igbo communities to their respective promised land.”
The Odogwu of Ibusa and Director, Centre for Igbo Studies of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Dr. Tony Nwaezeigwe, who corroborated the submission of the Igbo-Ukwu monarch on the efforts of Dr. Mbanefo at promoting Nigeria’s tourism industry, culture and tradition, enjoined the NTDC boss to make a policy that will make the Igbos understand and appreciate their culture and tradition.
He lamented the increasing decline in the promotion and preservation of the Igbo culture, especially language, which he said, is in danger of going extinct. “Foreigners are coming to appreciate what we have, in terms of culture and heritage; hence we should never allow those inestimable virtues to go into extinction. Thus, I plead with our government to make Igbo language and history a must in the academic curricular, thereby protecting our language, culture and tradition,” Dr. Nwaezeigwe submitted.
National Chairman, Mbido Igbo Association, Mazi Okafouzu Ugochukwu appealed to Anambra State government to assist in providing infrastructures in the place, such as tarring of the road leading to the National Yam House, building of a modern pavilion at the arena, provision of a functional bus and security van to the organizers of the festival, among others.
The Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation supported the five-day festival with a new deep freezer, a Motorcycle and a cow.